Directed by Shawn Levy
Starring Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly
Hey you got your X-Man in my Iron Giant when I was already watching Rocky! It sounds good but is it like Reece’s Cup magic or some horrible amalgamation where you mix mushrooms with pretty much anything? Yes mushrooms are gross, I said it. Now, on to the giant robots.
In the future the sport of choice for what appears to be a slightly depressed environment is giant fighting robots. It’s like robot wars on acid. It takes the combination of a skilled human controller and a well-built robot to be a success in the sport. Hugh Jackman plays a one-time fighting super star that has fallen on hard times, mostly due to his own ineptitude. In fact the film finds him fighting his ramshackle robot against a bull at a state fair. It’s like seeing the once great rock band that over the years most people have lost interest in struggle to get a gig anywhere. The fight can be a little challenging to watch at first if you’re an animal lover but it all works out by the end.
On his plummet toward the bottom Jackman ends up having to take charge of a son he had with an ex-girlfriend who recently died. He makes a deal with the rich husband of his son’s aunt. For money he will take the boy for the summer so they can go on vacation. He’s planning to use the money to buy another robot and get back into the big ring. It’s a pretty aggressively gross character movie in the early moments of the film because he essentially sells his son. The story is fairly connect the dots though. The son is a huge fan of the fighting robots and of course his father. He believes that he and his father can come out on top together. Jackman’s character begins to believe it too after he and his son rebuild a sparring robot that has a little something special, almost a personality of its own.
As I said there’s very little surprising in the film but honestly it doesn’t matter. The story is just pure fun and it has all the heart that Spielberg’s 80’s films such as E.T. had with a slightly more modern character edge. Real Steel takes the formulas all of the previously mentioned films and uses all the good parts, plus there are badass robot fights! The action is highly engaging and the robot is magnetic. This movie is just tons, literally, of good fun. Dakota Goyo is excessively precocious which is sure to please kids and make adults laugh and Hugh Jackman is able to turn a really unlikable character around by the end so he does his job just fine too. Evangeline Lilly from LOST is great as the love interest/mechanic even though her part is the most cardboard of the film.
Would it have been nice to have seen director Shawn Levy do something truly unique story wise with these concepts? Well yes of course but the story that is here while predictable is very well executed and highly entertaining even if you do know what’s going to happen in each scene before it starts. These are characters that would be fun to see again in a sequel. Hell if Sylvester Stallone can do it with Rocky then why not Real Steel 2?
For a film with a slightly smaller budget than similar films Real Steel takes great advantage of every dollar to craft a believable world that’s not so far in the future. Everything just feels a little down trodden. The budget is apparent in several tightly set locations requiring less set dressing and art direction than a more epic set would require. The 1080p video presentation here is better than theatrical quality bringing all of these elements to life with eye popping detail and spot on color. Black levels are inky all the way through the film without much loss of detail too. This is a near a perfect presentation as I’ve seen lately.
The DTS-HD master sound presentation here isn’t quite as well executed as the video. Surround speakers get great use in the fight scenes and the score is fairly engulfing but the dialogue often comes off too soft requiring you to ride the volume throughout the film. You’ll be cranking it to hear quiet dialogue driven scenes then jumping to turn it down during action. It’s not a tragedy but it sure is annoying. The surround presentation is in 7.1 and if you have the hardware to drive that mix you won’t have this issue but the presentation doesn’t scale very well for those with a 5.1 set up or worse those just watching with TV speakers or a sound bar.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The review copy we were sent is a 2 disc version of the release although there is also a 3 disc version. The packaging is a little ho-hum for such a fun movie. The cover art does feature the stars and the robot but it’s a basic render from the poster and marketing art. It’s not quite floating head awful but it’s just a little boring.
There are some featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes, and trailers. Oddly and painfully the commentary that’s included on the DVD isn’t available on the blu-ray!! Whose brilliant ideas was that?? That’s like a slap in the face of blu-ray adopters. More often than not fans that seek the higher quality A/V presentation are also those that seek features like audio commentaries. Now the studio might reply with “Hey the DVD is included in the combo pack so you can pop that disc in for the commentary.” So, in order to take in perhaps the most important bonus feature of the lot we have to settle for low res audio and video?? This decision is just insulting.
Now for the good news: there’s a bevy of interesting supplemental material here.
Countdown to the fight: The Charlie Canton Story
This is a highly entertaining featurette where Jackman is interviewed in character and he discusses his career, which started in real boxing; transitioned to robo boxing; and how he was reinvented by his son and Atom. This little mockmunetary actually offers up some nice background to the lead character.
The Making of Metal Alley
This featurette focuses on four days of shooting on the Metal Alley set. Cast and crew also discuss the mix of traditional special fx and CGI. Yup, there’s more real stuff in this movie than you might think.
Building the Bots
This one covers the creation of 19 actual robots by Legacy FX. The cast of course shares their appreciation for the opportunity to work with actual practical fx rather than acting to nothing in a giant green room. Producer Steven Spielberg comments on his desire to make sure there was a solid mix of practical and CG fx.
There’s a brief featuette featuring Sugar Ray Leonard and his input into the bot moves of the film. Along with the bloopers and deleted scenes there is an iPad app called Second Screen that actually wasn’t up and running at the time of this review.
Real Steel isn’t necessarily a family film classic because it doesn’t break new ground the way E.T. did but it does follow in the footsteps of classics. It was also easily the best family film in theaters in 2011. Real Steel is also a great step forward for a director who was most recently responsible for the painfully irritating Night at the Museum films. Real Steel was one of my top sort of guilty pleasure films of 2011 and that’s a little unfair in retrospect. No it wasn’t as unique as the films in my best of list but I don’t feel “guilty” about loving this film at all!
Overall (Not an Average) 8.5/10
The Movie 8.5/10
The Video 10/10
The Audio 7.5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7.5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8.5/10